Friday, May 26, 2006

Kenya's famed lions under threat

Kenya's famed lions under threat


Bogonko Bosire

Tue, 23 May 2006

Kenya's famed lion prides could be driven to extinction because ritual killings by tribal warriors are decimating their ranks in and around the country's protected game reserves, wildlife experts warned on Tuesday.


The findings were immediately dismissed by members of the Maasai tribe, which is blamed for most of the deaths among the country's dwindling lion population.


"It appears as if the Maasailand lions are in such serious decline that the entire population may disappear within very few years," the experts warned in a new study.


The study, by the Kilimanjaro Lion Conservation Project and experts from the University of California, squarely accused the Maasai for the loss of the big cats.


"Although the (lion) population seem to be in rapid decline, the number of killings has been increasing annually," it said. "It would appear that people are putting greater effort into lion killing."


Since 1998, at least 195 lions had been killed in and near southern Kenya's Amboseli and Tsavo preserves and the Nairobi National Park, reducing the confirmed number of lions to 2010, the experts said. Of those, 20 had been killed this year alone and the trend appeared to growing.


The study, entitled "Lion Killing in the Amboseli-Tsavo Ecosystem 2001-2006 and its Implications for Kenyas Lion Population", paints a bleak picture of the animals' future.


There were around 7000 lions in Kenya in the early 1990s. Now there are just 2010, it said.


"Nonsense," says Maasai chief


"The lions do not have time for Maasai traditions to change," it said.


In addition to traditional warrior rituals, the tribe was also slaying the lions with snares and poison in retaliation for deaths among their livestock, it noted.


But Daniel Ole Osoi, a senior Maasai leader, rejected the study's assertions, saying that ritual killings of lions were a thing of the past.


"Nonsense," he told AFP when asked about the study. "Ritual killing of lions no longer exists. We have realised that lions are part of our heritage and they also bring in tourists and money."


But he stressed that the Maasai would react if lions took their cattle.


"We shall continue killing the lions when they attack our livestock and until the government pays us enough compansation (for) every animal mauled by these beasts," Osoi said.


"These problems have to solved," said Elizabeth Wamba, the east African spokesperson for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), noting that human-wildlife conflicts were seriously undermining conservation efforts.


"It's becoming more apparent that many people have become less tolerant to the predators," she told AFP. "The problem of (the) dwindling lion population is just symptomatic of what is happening to other species in this country."


Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesperson Gichuhi Kabukuru dismissed the study as "clearly biased and ill-informed". He said lions were not an endangered species and "the issue of extinction is mistaken and irrelevant".


Recent surge in lion killings


But other KWS officials said they had witnessed a recent surge in lion killings, with nine confirmed fatalities linked to retaliatory attacks for the deaths of livestock around Amboseli in the past two months.


"To stop or deter such killings ... we have had meetings with the local communities and their leaders have resolved that the killing will no longer be entertained," said Wilson Korir, the assistant KWS director for southern Kenya.


There were an estimated half a million lions in Africa in 1950s, according to past surveys. Their numbers declined to 200 000 in the 1970s and to below 100 000 in the 1990s. There are now estimated to be just 28,000 of these majestic beasts across the vast continent.






Wandering lion spotted in Free State


Fri, 26 May 2006

Another lion is apparently wandering freely in the Free State, this time near Harrismith, police confirmed on Friday.


Spokesperson Superintendent Motarafi Ntepe said the first reports of a lion being spotted at Harrismith arrived about 2pm on Wednesday.


Ntepe said three people of extension B, Tshiame township, said they saw a lion.


She said police approached a local hunter to help them look for the animal.


"He followed some tracks but lost the trail later near Makholokweng village outside Harrismith.


"They are still looking for it."


The past two months two young wandering lions were also reported in the Winburg district. One was captured by a local lion breeder while the other one was shot on a local farm.






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